"I hope for more black superheroes": From Cleverman to comic books, Indigenous storytelling in 2017


A new wave of creators from diverse backgrounds have been breaking through the mainstream with stories of Aboriginal superheroes, racism in suburbia and power on a global scale.

There once was a time when Indigenous storytelling was restricted to only a few mediums. Those days, thankfully, are over.

Areas such as genre television, horror films and comic books – which for a large chunk told predominantly the stories of white, straight men - have all been penetrated by the need and hunger to tell more diverse stories from more diverse backgrounds.

For Ryan Griffen, the creator of hit TV series Cleverman, he found the worlds of science fiction and fantasy more welcoming to the kind of Indigenous story he wanted to tell.

“I guess for me, the genre in general is the most diverse in its characterisations than other sorts of formats or storytelling,” he says.

Ryan Griffen is the mind behind hit TV series Cleverman, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.

“I quite like going into those sorts of world because I can usually find someone to relate to.

“Trying to tell a story for a universal market they tend to… Sometimes people tend to see politics in stories that are told by a minority.

“Documentaries or dramas, they might feel like they’re being preached to.

“That’s definitely why we did Cleverman in the genre space as well, because its allowed the audience to come in off the back of their understanding of what genre is and let the subtext wash over.

“By the time they’ve finished watching it, they’ve learned something without even knowing it.

“People are turning up for the genre but then they get something else on the side, like black history or characters of colour.”

Sydney-based Griffen grew up on a diet of pop culture, largely comic books, and says his desire to create an Aboriginal superhero for his son was a huge motivation to make Cleverman.

“For me it’s comics that I attach myself to and fortunately comics are so diverse, but it was just not making its way on screen.

“When Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing Black Panther you start to get excited and for me seeing (Aborginal superhero) Manifold in the Avengers – even though he’s not getting as much page time as everyone else - it’s so exciting.

“Just the potential of having an Aboriginal superhero.”

Coates run on Marvel comics Black Panther series has been a critical and commercial hit, with the universe expanding to include even more diverse stories with feminist writer Roxane Gay becoming the first woman of colour to write on an ongoing Marvel series with World Of Wakanda.

In the movie sphere, Jordan Peele’s new film Get Out – which is a commentary on race in America – has been gaining serious momentum and is currently sitting at 99 per cent fresh out of 150 reviews on critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

"I hope for more Black Panthers and more black superheroes...”

“If you want to tell a story and put it out there for the masses, look at the horror genre for example,” notes Griffen.

“It may feel niche but it travels. So many people watch that sort of content and get scared by it.

“People are gravitating towards those sorts of stories a lot more given the political climate we’re in and minorities are getting their stories out there.

“People are looking for them. I mean, we’ve just had our first black director with a black film win an Oscar for a black picture (Moonlight).

“We’re gonna see more of these sorts of stories out there on the screen and I hope for more Black Panthers and more black superheroes.”

Get Out
Daniel Kaluuya stars in Jordan Peele's horror film Get Out.

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